Carpenters work in many different areas of the construction industry. They assist in the construction of buildings, highways, bridges, docks, industrial plants, boats, and many other types of common structures. Carpenters are becoming increasingly specialized, as most contractors specialize in one or two types of projects and hire contractors familiar with that specialization. Those who work in the construction of buildings usually are responsible for a number of duties, including framing walls, installing doors, building stairs, laying hardwood floors, and hanging cabinets. They build ventilation walls to control air circulation during construction.
Some carpenters participate in the remodeling of homes and other structures. These workers must be familiar with all aspects of carpentry work instead of just a few specialized tasks. Those who have a general, overall understanding of carpentry work are preferred by contractors who work on these kinds of projects. Other carpenters work outside the realm of construction, performing a wide variety of maintenance and installation work. These carpenters may specialize in glass replacement, ceiling tile installation, desk repair, or furniture renovation. In manufacturing firms, carpenters often move or install machinery.
Aspiring carpenters should have a number of desirable traits. They should have excellent manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. They need to be physically fit and have a good sense of balance. A good aptitude for solving quick mathematical problems is very helpful.
In 2002, carpenters earned a median hourly wage of $16.44. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $9.95, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $27.97. The following shows the median hourly wages in the industries employing the highest numbers of carpenters:
- Nonresidential building construction — $18.31
- Building finishing construction — $17.30
- Residential building construction — $16.02
- Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors — $16.01
- Employment services — $12.58
Training and Education
Carpenters learn their skills either by participating in a formal training program or through on-the-job training. A majority pick up their skills gradually and informally by working under the supervision of experienced carpenters. Others undergo formal vocational education programs. Apprenticeship programs are recommended by many employers as the most effective way to learn carpentry skills. Apprenticeships last between 3 and 4 years and are offered through the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Associated General Contractors, Inc., and the National Association of Home Builders.
Apprentices learn practical skills, such as rough framing and form building, as well as classroom information, such as freehand sketching and basic mathematics. On-the-job training is less formal and less comprehensive than apprenticeship programs, and both types of training programs look favorably upon a high school education. Carpenters may advance to carpentry supervisor or general construction supervisor positions. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
In 2002, carpenters held about 1.2 million jobs. One-third were employed by general building contractors and one-fifth were employed by special trade contractors.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of carpenters is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Construction of new houses and commercial and industrial plants will spur demand for these workers. This will be particularly true as the baby boomers enter their peak earning years and spend more on housing. Job opportunities for carpenters will be excellent because of the size of the occupation and the high rate of turnover.